News Coronavirus Low testing numbers key concern as NSW looks to wind back restrictions

Low testing numbers key concern as NSW looks to wind back restrictions

nsw virus rules
NSW might ease COVID rules within a week – as long as testing numbers stay up and cases stay low. Photo: AAP
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NSW is poised to ease some of its toughest virus rules as Premier Gladys Berejiklian declares the state is “on the right path” in its battle against the coronavirus.

But one crucial measure might make authorities delay – continued low testing numbers across the state.

NSW had its second day in a row without locally acquired COVID infections on Friday. There were two more cases in returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

However, testing numbers in the 24 hours to 8pm Thursday again dipped below 20,000, prompting a renewed warning from Ms Berejiklian.

“The government is very much in the space of considering health advice easing restrictions and I want to make that clear,” she said.

“But we won’t have the confidence to do that unless we have higher rates of testing, because that will assure us that we have captured all previously undetected cases of the virus, which may still be infectious in the community.”

northern beaches cluster
Virus testing numbers spiked in NSW as the northern beaches cluster emerged. Photo: Getty

Ms Berejiklian wouldn’t commit on Friday to how exactly many tests were needed, saying only “we would like to see the number two in front”.

“I want to stress to the community that relief is on its way, so long as we maintain low or zero numbers of cases on a daily basis and also so long as we get those testing rates high,” she said.

“That will give the health experts confidence that those low number of cases or zero number of cases are working hand-in-hand with high rates of testing and that is the perfect combination that will allow us to move forward.”

Ms Berejiklian said she would prefer a “holistic change” to restrictions, with a focus on when masks might not be required and raising limits on those allowed at “milestone” gatherings such as weddings and in private households. An announcement was likely within the next week, if case numbers remained low, she said.

Elsewhere, Queensland confirmed three new coronavirus cases on Friday. Two were in new arrivals in hotel quarantine and the other is a historic infection – with potential viral shedding – in Cairns.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she wasn’t worried about Friday’s latest cases and all 129 people who were transferred from the ill-fated Hotel Grand Chancellor had tested negative.

The hotel, in Brisbane’s CBD, was evacuated and shut on Wednesday as authorities investigated the spread of the British variant of COVID-19 on its seventh floor

Of the 147 people who had left the hotel since December 30, those who were in Queensland have been tested, Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Of the 226 staff, all have been contacted and some have been tested, so we’re still working through that,” she said.

Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said the vast majority of people related to the Hotel Grand Chancellor had been followed up.

“I’m becoming more and more confident that there is no ongoing spread related to that,” she said.

Victoria had its ninth consecutive day without local infections on Friday. There were two more in hotel quarantine.

Victoria’s update came as international arrivals continued to fly in for the Australian Open, which begins on February 8. They will not include former world No.1 Andy Murray, who has tested positive for the virus.

He reportedly still wants to come to Melbourne. But Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said on Friday that Murray would first have to test negative and then complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine period – making it unlikely.

“He will be treated exactly the same as everyone else,” Mr Foley said.

Overnight, world No.16 Madison Keys also confirmed she would miss the Melbourne grand slam after being confirmed with COVID.

“I’m very disappointed to not be able to play in the coming weeks after training hard in the off-season and knowing Tennis Australia and the tours did so much to make these events happen,” the 25-year-old tweeted.

Fellow American Tennys Sandgren arrived in Melbourne early on Friday hours after revealing he had tested positive to the virus before being allowed to board a Tennis Australia charter flight from Los Angeles. He also had the infection in late November, and his positive result has been deemed viral shedding by Victorian authorities.

“Mr Sandgren is not infectious,” Mr Foley said.

“He’s shedding the virus. He’s met the rigorous criteria that has been set.”